Below are a few fun Virginia Thanksgiving facts that might surprise you, courtesy of the BerkleyPlantation.com and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
- Archaeological evidence and historical records have revealed that the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia (one year and 17 days before the Plymouth, Massachusetts Thanksgiving). The myth that the first thanksgiving occurred with the Pilgrims in Massachusetts was born after the Civil War.
- Investors in England who financed the settlement of “Berkley Hundred” tapped John Woodlief to lead the expedition to the New World.
- The Berkeley Company had given a very specific list of ten instructions to the settlers when they departed England. The very first instruction was upon landing that they give a prayer of Thanksgiving for their safe voyage and to do so annually and perpetually thereafter.
- Woodlief prayed: “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
- In those days, the celebration of Thanksgiving was strictly a religious experience, focused entirely on prayer. It was a solemn affair, not a festival of food, such as the Pilgrims in Massachusetts experienced one year and 17 days after the actual first Thanksgiving.
- On November 9, 1962 Virginia State Senator John J. Wicker sent a telegram to President John F. Kennedy taking issue with President Kennedy’s 1962 Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, where full credit for Thanksgiving was given to the pilgrims in Massachusetts. Senator Wicker claimed he had already proven to the Governor of Massachusetts the validity of Virginia’s claim by simply displaying the records to him. In response, Senator Wicker received an apologetic reply from famed Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. writing on behalf of the President. Mr. Schlesinger attributed the “error” to unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff.
- Hayman potatoes were brought to Virginia in the 1800’s from the West Indies. Only a small number of localized growers produce the Hayman, but it remains a unique staple on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
- Beauregard and Covington are the two main commercial sweet potato varieties in Virginia
- Virginia is ranked 6th in the U.S. for states with the most turkey production
- An average of 5-6 million bushels of apples are produced annually in Virginia.
- Apple pie and pumpkin pie are ranked most popular for Thanksgiving. It takes about eight apples to make an apple pie.
- Canned pumpkin is a variety of squash called Dickinson pumpkin. Elijah Dickinson, who was born in Spotsylvania, Virginia, took these pumpkin seeds with him when he moved to Illinois where the Dickinson family began operating canning facilities, which were eventually purchased by Libby’s. It is believed that the recipe for pumpkin pie on the can’s label was created by Hazel Dickinson. The recipe has continuously remained on the label since 1950.
- Colonists relied on corn from Native Americans and corn eventually became a staple crop in Virginia. A few of the corn-based dishes that have evolved over time and regions include cornbread, johnny cakes or hoecakes and cornpone and are often made throughout the year, but are also a Thanksgiving tradition.